The Conjuror and the Moonlit Swim (Short Story)
  • Greetings! I wrote this story over a few weeks in February, 'finishing' it early this month, though neglecting to give it a proper final draft until now. I wrote it simply with the intention of carrying something through the creation process to completion, urged on by my literary peer and part time muse Karnage, without him I wouldn't be posting this here right now. Perhaps foolishly I haven't given the story a serious reading until just now as I spaced the lines and altered some phrasing to sound less like an idiot than I fear I will come off as. I hope you enjoy it, I guess.[RIGHT]-Fucking Maxim, goddamn[/RIGHT]

    The carriage pulled up the neglected dirt road, bumping along and kicking up dirt as it struggled to maintain purchase. It ground to a halt on what must have been the main road, for lack of any other notable paths in a small mountain village. The driver knocked on roof of his carriage and wiped the sweat and dust from his forehead. As the driver unloaded the modest baggage of his single passenger, the passenger climbed out the baking interior of the vehicle and into the strewn about shadows cast by the fir trees that sat basking in the summer heat.

    The scattered shadows offered no refuge from the heat to the young man. The fresh air, however, was a welcome change after having traveled for hours in an oven on wheels trailing a randy pair of uroxes. The young man, Geoffrey, placed the wide brimmed hat he held in his hands on his head and shielded his eyes from the sun as he scanned his surroundings.

    It was just as he remembered it. His parents had taken him to this secluded mountain village of Lone Bor for many summers of his childhood. They had inherited a small cottage from his grandmother which they visited yearly, to which he now held the key.

    He felt the eyes of the villagers on him, instinctively sensing the target of their gazes, he reached up for his hat and examined that it's peak had caved in. He reached into the hat and punched the top back into shape before replacing the peaked conical hat to his head. He tweaked the brim and flashed a bright smile to the grown crowd of onlookers stopped in their daily routine. Many of them hustled along or ushered their brood indoors.

    The hat branded him as a magician, it was the universal symbol used by magicians attempting to draw attention to themselves. An accessory that says “yes, I do indeed posses powers that allow me to toy with the very fabric of reality.”

    The driver handed him his bag and he in turn handed the driver his payment and a tip. A good tip goes a long way he had learned in his days making a meager living as a street performing conjuror back in the city, and if Geoffrey was one to judge: and he was, though he wouldn't describe himself as such; this tip was going to go as far as the nearest tavern.

    Most of his audience had dispersed but one middle aged woman watching him from the middle of the road. He walked up to her with a grin on his face and his bag in his hand.

    “Hello ma'am, certainly is a hot day today!” he grinned wider at his success in small talk “I used to come here every year with my parents. The Demoyles. My grandparents used to live here before that.”

    He waited for a response but the woman just stood there, watching him with her arms crossed.

    “Yes ...” he continued, the smile fading slightly “Well. Have a nice day.” and he set off in the direction he vaguely remembered the cottage being in.

    “Sorcerers are not welcome in our village.” she finally spoke “I remember your family, decent people, but that doesn't mean we'll welcome a bogman into our village with open arms.”

    “I assure you, ma'am, I am not a sorcerer, just a simple conjuror.”

    “I'm certain that distinction means a lot more to you than it does to us. We do well in these parts to honor the will of Sol and not welcome those familiar with infernal powers.”

    “Ma'am, I myself am a worshiper of Sol. I've never found that the will of Sol is entirely against to the use of magic. Isn't it said that one should use what talents one has to spread the light of Sol, unbidden by the inhibitions of others?” Geoffrey read from the back of his mind. He had debated the mutual exclusivity of the practice of magic and worship of various gods extensively in the classes at his college of magic. “The saints themselves are renown for having performed supernatural miracles, what is the difference between that and magic? That all magicians have compacts and contracts with infernal beings is an erroneous conception.”

    “You may have found a rationalization suitable for yourself.” she sighed “we see things a bit more clearly up here than down in the cities. I'm sure your family would not be pleased with your decision to pursue the dark arts.”

    That wasn't true, Geoffrey knew. Though his grandparents had died before he decided to go to college and study magic after showing some basic aptitude, his family had been proud of his decision to pursue such a goal. They had been much less proud of his decision to drop out of college and subsequently make his living by performing conjuring tricks on the street for something resembling a living. He knew plenty of good tricks. He could play the cups-and-balls game by fabricating and vanishing the ball where he wanted it to be, though he stopped using that as a method for making money after threats to cut off his “cheatin' fat fingers” if he didn't show how the trick had been done. He could pull two rings apart and mend the gap to make it appear as if he had passed two solid objects through each other. He even knew how to summon a rabbit simulacrum to appear in his hat as if he had been carrying it in there the whole time!

    “Look. I'm just up here for a brief holiday. I'll be leaving within the week. I'll keep to myself, I'd just like to enjoy myself, though I'm sure that's not going to happen now. If you'll excuse me” He walked past her and headed towards his cottage.

    He spent the rest of the day in his cottage, putting together what he needed to go fishing. Geoffrey left the house after the sun had dropped below the horizon and a brilliantly bright moon took it's place in the sky. The moon cast a bruised light on the village. The conjuror navigated his way down a path lined with trees that were black shapes against the purple and blue glittering night sky. His lantern swayed with a reassuring weight in his hand as he kept cautious footing on the dirt path stitched with surface roots.

    Though he had anticipated fishing, Geoffrey had neglected to prepare before leaving the city for Lone Bor. Instead he grabbed some old working clothes he figured had belonged to his grandfather, or perhaps his father had left them up here. He had procured a fishing rod from a closet in the cottage. He hadn't even considered bait, though he was confident in his ability to magically conjure up a mayfly simulacrum for that.

    Geoffrey pondered to himself if he would even see any fish this late at night. They must be sleeping, certainly; after all they must be well rested for school in the morning. He grinned disgustedly at his own affront to humor. Fish or not, it would be nice to get out of that cottage now that his welcoming committee had shut up in their homes safe from ghoulies and “Bogmen”.

    He had filled his pockets with anything he had found and decided was sufficiently “outdoorsy”: A compass that he couldn't read in the dark, a small knife for gutting theoretical fish, and a duck call — though on reflection even he would have admitted that last one was a bit silly of him.

    A cool wind had blown away the heat of the day, leaving behind a comforting blanket of warm air occasionally accented by a refreshing breeze. Geoffrey sat on the end of a small but sturdy dock that extended a short distance into the lake. He preferred not to wade out into the reeds lining the muddy shore this time. His eyes were locked on the mirror-like reflection of the moon on the surface of the black water, the image occasionally shattered by the passing breezes and re-assembled when the waters settled down again. He let the wind carry his line with his little simulacrum tethered to the end dancing over the surface of the water. It wasn't a real mayfly. It wasn't even exactly alive. No, he reminded himself, it wasn't alive at all. A simulacrum was simply animate mass, construct made real by his will and ability to manipulate the Odd energies of magic. It's not an illusion, it's real, it simply isn't what it appears to be.

    Nothing was biting, though he wasn't bothered. He wasn't particularly bothered by the reactions of the villages either though echoes of his schoolmates told him he should be.

    “Their inability to accept that their beliefs and traditions are outdated and fueled by ignorance is an embarrassment. The world would be a better place if they were shut up for good!” they would have said.

    “Oh well,” he thought.

    Geoffrey found himself uncomfortable in the natural silence of these mountains. It drowned out his thoughts, made it hard to focus, he needed the constant familiar background bustle of the city to hold his ideas in place long enough for him to get a good look at them. He found himself making noise. Tapping the dock with his feet, clicking rhythm-less songs with his tongue, he even tried playing with the duck call but stopped when something howled a blood freezing response closer than Geoffrey felt it had any right being.

    A fish had bumped his line, though there was no sign of it now. Perhaps he had imagined it when his lure bounced off the water in an odd way or maybe the wind had blown it in such a way that — no, there it was, a shadow moving beneath the surface. He leaned forward slowly to get a better look into the black abyss of the water and did in fact find it looking back.

    Something soft, wet, and slimy wrapped firmly around his ankle and pulled hard. Geoffrey slid forward almost over the edge of the dock and fell flat onto his back.

    “Squak!” he shouted through the duck call.

    He flailed around looking for anything to grab hold of and his wandering hand found the handle of his lantern, though he would have been happier to find something fastened down.

    “Squarp gurgle gurgle” cried the duck call as Geoffrey was yanked off the dock and into the water. He plunged into the lake and saw his assailant in the light provided by his lantern, now filling with water and soon to be put out. It was humanoid but certainly not human. No longer human in any case. It's gaping maw was filled with an array of small jagged teeth leading back to it's pulsing throat, it's entrance guarded by a long tongue thrashing and reaching for him. It's body was accurately described as resembling a corpse bloated with water but having seemingly taken on features of amphibian life. It's swollen eyes bulged from it's frog-like face and locked an unfocused gaze on him. Geoffrey brought his lantern clumsily down onto the grotesque head of the creature. It connected with force that cracked the glass of the lantern but the thing just recoiled and quickly regained composure.

    Geoffrey had been well acquainted with tales of vodmen from his childhood. A restless soul of the drowned dead taken hideous amphibious form, a corruption of the dark will that drove it, and drowned others in a form of undirected revenge. Supposedly they were quelled by placing a coin in their mouths to pay their passage into the nether, though why a psychopomp would want money that had been in a vodman's mouth was always a joke the child who fancied himself clever would make when being told this. That had been Geoffrey. It certainly showed that even in death, man would be willing to put aside his personal goals for a bit of money. It was a reason to not swim in the lake without adult supervision.

    The kids in the village had played games featuring the vodman, although their version of it was a child with strands of lake weed draped over themselves, usually applied by the other children to the current target of their teasing, or if that failed, the weakest child in the group. Geoffrey had made sure this was never him. He was always bigger and stronger than the other kids and mostly clever in a selective self preserving way needed to survive the social complexities of childhood. He was never particularly fast though and was often left behind without remorse by the other children as a sacrifice to the vodman.

    Geoffrey brought his arm back to strike again, fighting against the resistance in the water and the increasing weight of the cracked lantern as it rapidly filled with water and extinguished. The vodman lifted a long flabby arm in retaliation. A webbed hand wrapped around Geoffrey's raised wrist, the vodman's other arm still grasping his ankle holding him in place. Geoffrey struggled to get out of it's grip and swim to the surface . He pushed at the monster with his free arm and kicked at it with his free leg but only managed to tire himself out and stir up silt that obscured his vision like a heavy fog.

    The vodman pulled itself in close to Geoffrey and brought it's wide mouth into contact with his shoulder. The conjuror felt the rows of needle sharp teeth dig into his flesh as the vodman clamped down. Its tongue lashed excitedly. Blood oozed from between the vodman's mouth and Geoffrey's shoulder as it began to pull away tearing Geoffrey's flesh from his body. Geoffrey tried to scream but all he let out was bubbles as his mouth filled with dirty water. Panicking, he shoved a hand into a pocket and withdrew his fish gutting knife. He brought the knife swinging up and around. It cut through the water and punctured the slick rubbery skin of the vodman's neck. He repeatedly stabbed it in the neck and head. His dull knife thudded and scraped against the creature's skull, trailing a brown ichor as it cut the vodman's flesh. It's tongue thrashed violently as it released it's bite on Geoffrey and drew it's head back from the assault. It's teeth were stained with Geoffrey's blood which spread like a mist between them, mixing with the silt.

    Geoffrey changed his focus to the monster's flabby round belly as blood, silt, and tears filled his water clouded eyes. His lungs screamed for air as he stabbed at it, tearing it open, pond scum blood and flesh leaking out from it's wounds. The vodman let go and pulled away from the relentless assault. Geoffrey took this opportunity to swim to the surface. His arms strained to pull him through the water. He heaved and coughed and gripped the wound on his shoulder. Blood oozed from between his fingers but he didn't see this as he tried to blinked the water and other substances from his eyes. He fixed his gaze on the bright moon set in the dark sky praying that it was all over.

    He was yanked back under the water. The moon exited focus behind the refractive surface of the filthy water. The conjuror found himself facing off yet again with the grotesque water-logged visage of the vodman. He was tired. He needed help. He was going to die. He desperately and weakly swung the knife through the resisting water. The vodman grabbed Geoffrey's wrist in one strong webbed hand, it's long flexuous fingers wrapping around it like tentacles. It grasped Geoffrey's throat with it's other hand. It gargled a snarl at him which he could barely hear through the water and the deep drumming beat of blood pumping and pounding in his head his head. An idea struck and spread like the heat of a match in Geoffrey's mind. The vodman pulled Geoffrey towards it's broad mouth. Geoffrey lifted his foot against the vodman's tattered stomach and held it back at length with his remaining strength.

    Geoffrey's eyes locked with the vodman's dark bulbous eyes. There was no humanity. He lifted his free hand behind the vodman's head and burbled out an arcane phrase through clenched teeth and a mouth full of soiled water. From behind the creature's head the conjuror drew a glimmering silver coin. It seemed to emanate light in the murky dark waters, or perhaps it reflected light from an unseen source. With a quick prayer for success against all odds, his leg giving away against the persistent strength of the vodman, he thrust the coin into the creature's mouth. His hand snagged on one of the many sharp teeth and was gashed from pinky to wrist but he planted the obol at the entrance to it's throat. Geoffrey withdrew his hand before the slow reflexes of the vodman could kick in and clamp down on it. It's tongue tried to wrap around his hand but it was too slick to get a hold.
    The vodman loosened it's grip uncertainly, floating slowly away towards the darkness of the depths of the lake. It thrashed about shortly before seizing up. It had worked. Rigor mortis quickly spread through it's body from it's head, it's limbs and digits twitching before being touched by the sudden onset of death. Geoffrey floated back up to the surface as the stiff lifeless body of the vodman drifted off and sank into the black depths of the lake. He slowly swam through the water to the shore, one hand clamped on his wounded shoulder praying it wasn't as bad as it felt. He pulled himself onto the muddy shore and lay on his back in a bed of collapsed reeds. He closed his eyes but fought the urge to sleep.

    The tired, hurt, weary Geoffrey reached into a pocket and mumbled a phrase of magic sounding nonsense familiar to him from his time spent as a street performer back in the city, where he would much rather have been at this time. He pulled a long string of handkerchiefs tied together at the corners from the pocket. He attempted to dress the wound with the kerchiefs but only truly succeeded in covering it and fastening the conjured cloth in place.
    Sprawled on the shore, cool lake water lapping at his legs, he watched the moon. He blinked: once, twice …


    Geoffrey took a deep breath. He felt invigorated but very sore. He stretched and found the shore to be a lot softer and drier. He felt the comfortable press of light against his eyelids. He opened his eyes slowly and found himself not looking at a celestial body, but a candle on a nightstand. He was in a bed in someone's house and a comfortable one at that. He stretched underneath the warmth of of an eiderdown quilt and found his wound freshly bandaged and firmly bound. The thought of who did this for him passed through his mind, though he wasn't too concerned with where the blood soaked handkerchiefs had gone too. He dozed in and out of pleasant sleep until he heard someone enter the house.

    Geoffrey propped himself up on his elbows greatly favoring his injured side. The door to the room slid open. A middle aged man with whitening hair and a thick mustache entered the room bearing a generous serving of food on a plate

    “Oh good, you’re up,” the man grinned a lopsided grin at him “I brought you this.” He placed the full breakfast on the nightstand next to the bed.

    “As a doctor, I would say you should eat light, but as a resident of Lone Bor and a bit of an angler myself, I’d like to thank you for getting rid of that damned vodman,” His manner of speech was meandering but deliberately enunciated. He seemed to savor each syllable before letting it out.

    “I didn’t exactly set out to do that, Mister …”

    “Peter Marten, but just call me Pete.”

    “Pete.”

    “Of course not, you’d have to be a fool to try a thing like that, but you did what you did and we’re thankful for it,” He paused, looking thoughtful “Though why you were out fishing at night is a curious thing.”

    Geoffrey thought about his answer before responding.

    “To be honest,” he paused for a moment weighing the appropriateness of honesty “I was just trying to keep to myself. I got the impression that I wasn’t exactly welcome here.”

    “Ah, yes, I heard about what Patricia said to you. You should pay her no mind,” He looked out the window, morning light pouring in. “You see, around these parts magicians aren’t viewed quite the same as they are down south. The magic up here near Troll land is not quite as academic or practical as it is closer to civilization. For some, it’s not enough for some wizard from the city –“

    “Conjuror actually,” Geoffrey interrupted.

    “To them it’s no different. For some, it’s not enough for you to come fresh from the city and act like magicians are all right and good when those raised up mere in the mountains have been taught the dangers of these esoteric pursuits of power. Some even experience it firsthand. Don’t tell anyone I told you this but the reason Patricia, my sister, gets so worked up over magic is that she knows how too much power can corrupt. She dabbled in sorcery in her younger days, back in the city. It changed her in ways she had enough presence of mind to notice thank Sol. She ran from it up here in Lone Bor, following me. Eat up. Please.”

    Geoffrey did, grabbing a bun in one hand and a sausage in the other. The man looked at a collection of jarred herbs, bottled liquids and vialed powders in a cupboard in the corner of the room and smiled.

    “It’s why she and my wife, Rada, never got along. You see, my wife was raised farther north from here, Troll land. Well she was taught by a Troll Baba, their matriarchs, old troll witchcraft; magic that can help people ... or hurt them. She only ever wanted to use it to help people though. She said that the any true witches did, but she knew the power she wielded had two faces. Well she ended up moving down here in Lone Bor of all places. She was a cunning woman, she knew her magic would be less appreciated by more strict worshipers of Sol, so she passed off the practice as purely herbalism and natural remedies, which it mostly is anyways, and let her success speak louder than any rumors of a wicked witch settling in the village.

    “Of course when I moved up here (city life was too stressful for me) I met her and fell instantly in love with her. After convincing her that she should love me back we got married” he laughed. “Patricia soon followed me up here, as I said, but she was less enamored with Rada than I. Her new found disdain for magic and I believe in part jealousy hindered what I had hoped would be a close friendship between them.

    “Rada’s unguent is why you’re still alive. Without it I’m not sure I could have done much to help that nasty wound of yours.”

    He clapped his hands together and grinned widely his lopsided grin.

    “Sorry if I went on a bit, I hope you enjoyed the meal.” Peter apologized.

    “Yes! Thank you,” Geoffrey replied “for the food and the medical attention.”

    “I also hope you understand though, that we aren’t just a hateful people, many of us have just grown cautious of people who seek power; though plenty of the good people of the Lone Bor have grown to know my wife as she was, and know that power can be used for good things by good people. Keep it up ‘monster killer’ and you may just enter good standing with us fine mountain folk.

    “So stay as long as you’d like, certainly as long as you need to heal and if anyone bothers you, especially Patricia, come to me and I’ll sort them out for you.”

    Geoffrey chuckled through a mouth full of bread, meat, and egg. Though his time in Lone Bor had started out poorly and had gotten worse, he found himself well rested, well fed, and plus one friend in a Peter Marten. All in all his holiday was off to a positive start.

    So yeah, there's a thing.
  • I know how hard you worked on this, and I'm immensely proud that you decided to put it up for others to see. Hopefully this will manage to perk up your ears and allow you to believe in the talent you have. I really do particularly like the description of the vodman. Keep it up! I know you can c:
  • Why isn't this a book I can buy yet?

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